Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun betting small amounts of money that you can afford to lose in search of absurd accumulators that would produce life-changing winnings (as the saying goes)? The Cheltenham Showcase meeting that heralded the proper start of the jumps season seems like only yesterday, yet we have already devoured the BetVictor Gold Cup, Betfair Chase and Hennessy before moving onto the post-Christmas feast of the King George and Welsh National.
Now seems like an appropriate moment to take stock of the action so far, with particular reference to the five horses that shoulder the burden of not only the hopes of punters across the land, but also the significant weight-cloth of my season-long expectations. They had the misfortune of being selected for my aptly-named ‘Five To Follow’ blog of two months ago, so let’s examine how they are progressing:-
1) Black Narcissus – the reappearance of my nemesis after an eight-month break was not hugely impressive. She finished third of three finishers at Plumpton on 15 November, beaten 57 lengths as the 9/1 outsider, and her jumping wasn’t entirely convincing either. On first glance you would say she has not progressed, but she was up against two match-fit rivals and, if anything, the soft ground over three miles was not enough of a stamina test for her. Verdict – may be worth going back over hurdles with her, but best watched until the ground comes up heavy over more than three miles
2) Gilgamboa – reappeared in the Fortria Chase at Navan where he was pipped at the post by a 25/1 shot. However, two miles is plenty sharp enough for a Grand National hope and he had Ballycasey behind, so it was a promising run. Verdict – hard to know where he goes from here, and the trainer may want to protect his weight by running him in hurdles, so may be best to cut to the chase (geddit?) and back him now for the Grand National. Bet365 generously offer 40/1 – snap it up!
3) Vieux Lion Rouge – as suspected, it was just the extreme distance of the Festival four-miler and Grand National that found him out last season, and a really impressive win last Saturday (yes, for once I am speaking with the bookies cash!) confirmed the enormous promise of the seven year-old. This looks like solid form with Highland Lodge and The Last Samuri running well, and a rise of just four pounds keeps him competitive.
Verdict – the problem now is that connections seem keen on another crack at the National for which he is quoted at 25/1, but I’m not keen on backing horses who so markedly failed to stay the marathon trip even if he will be a year older. Keep a waiting brief.
4) Waldorf Salad – no sight yet of this imposing eight year-old so keep scanning the entries. It’s possible he could go straight for the Welsh National as he won first time out last season. Verdict – 33/1 is available from Ladbrokes and Paddy Power amongst others. It looks tempting, but keep stakes small as he is not a certain runner.
5) Coneygree – when I suggested this previous winner might be value for next year’s Gold Cup at 12/1, given that there were question marks surrounding many of his rivals, I didn’t expect one of those to be the death of Vautour whom I would dearly have loved to see line up, (albeit twelve months too late). The road to jumping glory is a bumpy one, and I doubt we’ve seen the last major turmoil in the ante-post market for the Gold Cup, but please don’t let it be the death of another horse. Verdict – It’s hard to know quite what to make of his reappearance from a year’s absence when put in his place by Cue Card, but I wouldn’t be backing him now at 8/1. If by March he lines up, has had another run, and is still 8/1 that caution could change.